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Why the Falcons Need a Defensive Minded Head Coach

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We need a defensive identity - now.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to replacing a fired head coach, the tendency in the NFL is to go in the opposite direction of the last coach you had in place. If your previous coach was quiet, you may want someone more fiery. If your last coach was player friendly, you may look for a disciplinarian the next time. And if your last coach was defensive minded, you may be leaning towards an offensive minded coach.

For the Falcons though, I believe it's critical to find another defensive minded head coach - even though Smitty already fit that billing.

Some may argue that the offense is this team's strength and should be built upon, and an offensive minded head coach would likely put his energy into doing just that. That is certainly a valid point. However, the Falcons offense - 12th in scoring in 2014 - is not the biggest flaw with this team. Filling the void at tight-end and maintaining a healthy offensive line would go a long way towards getting this offense back into the top 10 in scoring.

The defense, however, needs far more work. Here are some key reasons I believe the Falcons must find a defensive minded coach to replace Smitty in 2015.

1. Luring a good Defensive Coordinator to Atlanta could be very difficult

If you're a defensive coordinator who has had success, and the Falcons contacted you about coming to coach this defense, would you do it? If it were me - I'd stay away. In fact, I'd probably hang up the phone pretty quickly.

The reality is the Falcons defense is the least attractive thing about this team. Outside of Trufant, there are a lot of question marks at almost every other position. Sure, there are plenty of serviceable players like Soliai and Moore. And some of the young guys like Hageman, Ishmael and Southward are intriguing. Veterans like Babineaux and Peters can still be worthy contributors.

The reality, though, is that this defense needs some serious revamping. That is a tall order for any coordinator to come in and take over, and given Arthur Blank's belief that the team should turn things around quickly, it is a tall task to take on.

However, by bringing in a defensive minded coach - whether you're talking about Bowles, Quinn or Ryan - the incentive of inheriting a good offensive core should be enough to get them in the door. That would allow the new head coach to focus his energies on his speciality: the defense.

The role of the defensive coordinator would be less important, as the new head coach would likely set the tone for what the defense will look like. Which leads to my second point...

2. A Defensive minded coach should establish an identity for this defense

If there is one major failing that we could point out with Smitty, it's that the defenses he fielded never had a true identity. The closest we came was in 2012, when the unit was known for generating turnovers and finished in the top-7 in scoring.

While it's possible that a new defensive coordinator could come in and finally establish a defensive identity, there's no doubt that having a head coach with an established defensive history would go a long way towards accomplishing that goal. Given that it would likely be hard to lure a good DC here, having the head coach establish that identity will be crucial.

A quick glance at some of the defensive minded candidates shows a history of defenses with a clear identity. Todd Bowles fielded a creative and aggressive defense in Arizona. Dan Quinn has overseen the "Legion of Boom" in Seattle for the past two years. Rex Ryan is known league wide for his tough, physical defenses.

All three of these coaches established - or at least oversaw - defenses that produced and had a clarity in purpose. That would be a huge upgrade from the confusing mess that the Falcons have fielded the past 2 seasons.

3. The defensive talent needs to be re-evaluated by fresh eyes

Are we a 3-4 or a 4-3? Or are we really a 3-2-5? What in the world is this defense?

Those were questions asked throughout 2014 and it points to the mess the team was on defense. But part of it was caused by the use of the talent on the roster.

For instance: Babineaux has been a traditional 4-3 3-tech for most of his career and has thrived in that role. This year, he was deployed at 3-4 5-tech and at 3-tech throughout the year. Tyson Jackson was used as a 4-3DT at times, along with being a 3-4 DE. Hageman was used at the Nose, the 3-tech, the 5-tech and probably other variations as well.

For our linebackers, Biermann was often used as a 4-3 DE, but also as a 3-4 OLB. He was even dropped into coverage as a deep safety. Worrilow often found himself dropping into coverage. Massaqoui - when he played - was used similarly to Biermann.

Our safeties were switched around as well. Ishmael - who looks like a more traditional box-safety - was often found in deep coverage. Lowery - who once played corner - was often found in the box.

I could go on, but the point is clear: we need a coach to come in and put a fresh set of eyes on the existing talent. While a coordinator could do that, it's usually the job of the head coach to work with the GM in sorting through the roster and identifying the roles for the players. Having a defensive minded coach would help dramatically in properly evaluating the existing roster and identifying how best to use the guys we currently have.

Regardless of who is brought in, it's clear that they will have their work cut out for them where the defense is concerned. If we do bring in an offensive minded coach, let's hope that he can lure a quality defensive coordinator to Atlanta to help fix these issues. Because until this defensive unit is fixed, it's likely the Falcons will not be a playoff caliber team.